Desert Hills flipped the proverbial switch at halftime in Saturday’s 4A semifinal.
Trailing underdog Mountain Crest at the half, Desert Hills forced three turnovers and absolutely dominated the second stanza in pulling away for an emphatic 44-14 victory at Southern Utah University.
With the win, the Thunder advances to Friday’s 4A state championship against Crimson Cliffs seeking its first state title since 2016.
“They’re playing great. It should be a great game. They’ve been well-coached and have had a great season. We expect a very tough battle,” said Desert Hills coach Rick Berry.
Mountain Crest led 14-10 at the half Saturday, but Desert Hills rolled after halftime outscoring the Mustangs 34-0 as it moves within one victory of the state title.
The message at halftime was a simple one from coach Berry.
“Believe in each other, keep your heads up, come out and execute,” he said. “In the first half we just didn’t do what we’re supposed to do.”
Cyrus Polu’s performance defensively in the second half was what ultimately flipped the switch. Just two minutes into the second half, he intercepted a pass and returned it 33 yards for a score as Desert Hills regained the lead 16-14.
Two plays into Mountain Crest’s next drive, he intercepted another pass, setting up his offense with 1st and goal at the 8-yard line. Tyden Morris scored the first of his two TDs a couple plays later, and suddenly Desert Hills was comfortably ahead 23-14.
“We just put our heart on the line. We didn’t want this to be our last game, so we just played the best that we could,” said Polu.
Beau Wall, Polu and Morris all added another touchdown run over the final 13 minutes to finish off the win.
Berry believed that playing with the lead changed the game completely.
“We said before the game if we can get these games one-dimensional and take away their running game, ‘cause they’re so big up front and they do a nice job, and make them have to throw, we’re going to be in good shape,” said Berry.
Mountain Crest ended up throwing three interceptions in the second half.
For Desert Hills, it rushed for 211 yards as a team, including 142 from Morris, who carried the ball 26 times.
“He’s been a workhorse all year. The kid averages over 100 yards every game. He’s our workhorse; he’s our inspiration. He just never quits,” said Berry.
It was a disappointing ending for Mountain Crest following a great first half. After forcing Desert Hills into a three-and-out to start the game, the Mustangs ripped off a methodical 11-play drive to take an early 7-0 lead on a 19-yard TD pass from Casey Crofts to Will DeKorver in the corner of the end zone.
After Desert Hills put together a couple of scoring drives to go ahead 10-7 at the 6:32 mark of the second quarter, Mountain Crest had a great response before halftime.
Crofts engineered a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard TD run from Carson Olsen with 38 seconds left before the break. Crofts completed 4-of-6 passes on the drive for 53 yards.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, things unraveled quickly in the second half with the costly turnovers.